SF raises an interesting question, one that reaches beyond the design of baseball parks and extends to architecture more broadly: how do we reconcile tradition with a desire for the new? I would suggest that at many of the new ballparks–and at PacBell, Coors, and Safeco in particular (the only three of the new parks, I’ve visited)–this challenge has been handled, for the most part, pretty well.
Each of these parks is sited with care, has excellent site-lines within, intelligent circulation, and a smartly idiosyncratic field of play. Are they sheathed in brick? Yes. But why not? Some kind of covering material is necessary; why not work within the context and tradition of the ballpark by using brick. There’s no reason to drape these things in titanium. At Coors field, which sits in Denver’s LoDo–a largely brick industrial area–the material makes perfect contextual sense. At Safeco, the brick may be a bit hokey, but the architects have left exposed the spectacular steel structure and mechanical parts that operate the sliding roof.
Compare these parks to the sterile new stadium environments constructed for the NFL (in Philly and Baltimore, for example). NYT architecture critic Herbert Muschamp recently praised the new Soldier Field–an awkward intervention if ever there was one–in the same article denigrating the design of Coors on the same grounds you have raised. We couldn’t disagree more. For decades, we will be able to look back on the years since the construction of Camden Yards as a second golden era of ballpark design. If there is any criticism of these parks, it should be directed at the way they have been financed–and this is another reason PacBell, built with no public money, is worth celebrating.